In Los Angeles County, one in five students in 5th, 7th and 9th grades is obese. Stuart Karten Design (SKD) has unveiled a program designed to fight the childhood obesity epidemic by motivating young people to make healthy choices.
SKD's solution, DownWithDenim.org, is a conceptual program that uses fashion and visualization as catalysts for lasting behavior changes. When they sign up for the program, overweight teens and tweens receive a free pair of denim jeans in the next size down and support from virtual trainers and nutritionists to help them fit into the new pants by developing healthier lifestyles.
Acknowledging the prevalence of information regarding health and diet, SKD observed that children lack intrinsic motivation to adopt healthy behaviors. Motivation for teens and tweens is all about improving self-esteem. For a young person, weight is not just a matter of health, but a critical part of their self-image.
"Self-image is the elephant in the room when people talk about obesity," said SKD principal Stuart Karten. "People refer to health, but they skirt around the topic of appearance. But for a young person who is overweight, appearance has a huge emotional impact. We wanted to open up that part of the conversation in a positive way."
DownWithDenim helps kids take control of their bodies and develop a healthy, positive body image through five components: jeans, truck, website, mobile app and coaches.
Jeans are a fashion item universally valued by young people. When signing up for the program, overweight participants receive a free pair of jeans in the next size down. Healthcare professionals and dietitians emphasize that losing just five to ten percent of one's body weight can have a tremendous impact on his or her health. For an obese person, this five to ten percent generally corresponds with one jean size. As participants' waistlines shrink, their self-esteem grows. The jeans themselves become a concrete representation of progress as, each day, the zipper begins to slide smoothly upward, inch by inch. DownWithDenim.org is open to participants of any weight. The goal to teach all kids how to maintain a healthy lifestyle by being cognisant of what they eat and how much they exercise. Kids with a healthy BMI receive same-size jeans.
In Los Angeles, food trucks have made healthy meals conveniently available to communities across the city. Building on the success of this model, DownWithDenim.org employs a mobile truck to reach potential participants at their schools and neighborhoods. The truck is staffed with a community dietician and a stylist, who help kids become inspired and make an initial commitment. A "Magic Mirror" inside the truck provides a powerful visualization tool: using augmented reality, kids view how they would look at their healthy Body Mass Index (BMI). This image is then sent to participants electronically to be used as a source of motivation.
Building on teens' widespread use of social media, DownWithDenim.org provides online information and interaction. In the online community, participants create a profile, log their food and exercise and interact with peers.
The Mobile App
A variety of mobile device apps such as "Eat This Not That" and location-based services that help kids find healthy food are also integral to DownWithDenim.org.
At the truck, participants meet a personal nutritionist and trainer who will coach them on how to fit into their jeans via weekly virtual meetings. DownWithDenim.org democratizes the Beverly Hills experience, making professional support available free of charge to kids of all income levels. Through daily text messages and weekly calls or web chats, professionals offer targeted advice and encouragement. The truck remains a key point of interaction between participants and health professionals. When that pair of jeans fits, kids can consult with a dietician and make an appointment to select another pair of jeans in the next size down, until reaching a healthy BMI. Those who maintain a healthy BMI are eligible to claim another pair of jeans after 6 months of participation in the program. Nutritionists conduct a health evaluation when participants visit the truck to screen for signs of eating disorders. Follow-up consultations and monitoring are essential to ensure weight is lost at a healthy rate not exceeding one to two pounds per week. Those suspected of being at risk for eating disorders are connected to professional resources.